|Betina Krahn: The Marriage Test|
Berkley (Paperback), ISBN 0425196453
Two bedraggled knights knock at a convent door one cold and rainy April evening. The local townsfolk, wise to such things, swore this convent offered the finest dining around. Minutes later, the knights break into song and dance over the merits of a meat pie, much to the dismay of the reserved sisters. But such abandonment to the pleasures of food occurs frequently in the medieval universe of Betina Krahn's The Marriage Test, a book devoted in equal parts to the glory of love and the glory of fine cuisine.
For a reader interested in the culinary arts, the book serves as a well researched and easily read guide to the eating practices of the nobility and clergy during the High Middle Ages. Meals, recipes, nutritional theory, even the crushing of herbs -- few details escape description.
It may not even be too far- fetched to argue that food and dining act as real players in the love story. Orphaned noblewoman Julia of Childress, now acclaimed chef at the Convent of the Brides of Virtue, schemes to cook herself out of the convent and into a marriage. Griffin, the Count of Grandaise, suffers from such an acute sense of smell that he wears a steel band over his nose--and his heart.
Desire for a decent meal prompts Griffin to hire Julia as his personal chef for one year, with the understanding that he will return her to the abbess with her virtue intact. But the way to a man's heart lies through his stomach, and Julia has no intention of receding behind convent walls.
Steeped in verbal feasts, stuffed with culinary research, and peppered with feisty heroines, the book serves up a delicious romp through the wine country of the south of France. A few plot twists defy all reason, however. When a rival nobleman abducts Julia, Griffin smells his way to her rescue. And no matter how good the feast, I find it difficult to believe a single dinner can heal the rifts created by a family feud waged over generations. Still, the book makes no claims about reality. Rather it celebrates plucky women, the men they love, and the benefits of a solid, home-cooked meal. Curl up with this book, indulge in your favorite comfort food, and enjoy.
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